Chilmark expands selling opportunities for Menemsha fishermen
During the off-season, Chilmark selectmen met several times with Island commercial fishermen in an effort to support the struggling local fishing industry and preserve Menemsha as a viable fishing port.
Although there were some disagreements and occasional friction, the participants agreed broadly that if Menemsha is to remain a viable fishing port, more effort was needed to provide distributors with a reliable supply of fish and fishermen with more commercial outlets for their catches.
As a result of those discussions, fishermen this summer have had several options for selling fish. The commercial striped bass fishery, a large part of the summer fishing industry, has fared particularly well with more outlets than in the past.
Based on projections that the state's quota will soon be filled, the commercial striped bass fishing season ends today, although markets may continue to sell fish brought in from out of state.
The sea's bounty provides a living for fishermen and several middlemen on the way to the dining table. Photo by Ralph Stewart
More choice, competition
Fishermen who might have had trouble in the past selling their catches, now say there are more choices and more demand for their fish. Many Menemsha fishermen expressed a degree of loyalty and trust when selling to local buyers as opposed to buyers from places off-Island, for instance in New Bedford.
The most consistent local fish buyer on the Menemsha waterfront has been Betsy Larsen of Larsen's Fish Market, who has been buying fish for 37 years without interruption.
Last summer, Ms. Larsen was the only local fish buyer in Menemsha.
Ms. Larsen said that she did as much as she could to purchase product locally but was limited by the size of her building. She said the expansion of outlets for local fishermen is a good thing.
"Our coolers are very small, so we can't buy as much fish as we would like," said Ms. Larsen. "It's good that there are new buyers, definitely."
Karsten Larsen is no stranger to the Menemsha fishing scene. Mr. Larsen is a commercial fisherman and has acted as a middleman in the past, transporting fish to markets in New Bedford by boat.
He now works with his cousin, Louis Larsen, the owner of the Net Result, whose fish market is on Beach Road in Vineyard Haven, to buy fish from Menemsha fishermen, taking some of the product to the Net Result and the remainder off-Island.
Mr. Larsen said he resumed buying fish "to help the fishermen. It's hard to trust the buyers around. It's hard to know if they are going to make it or not. Islanders are the most reliable."
And there is another Larsen buying fish this summer, for the first time in a while. Stanley Larsen, the owner of Menemsha Fish Market, recently received permission to buy fish again.
Stanley Larsen was licensed to buy fish when he opened Menemsha Fish Market in 2004, but because of a bookkeeping problem was forced to stop a few months later. He says he is glad to be back: "I have been offering record high prices to the fishermen, trying to get them to sell to me. But the competition is good. At this point, I'm just trying to concentrate on my record keeping." Mr. Larsen also added that he tries to buy as much "local stuff" as possible, and will buy anything from clams to swordfish.
Though fishing has always been a difficult job, in recent years fishermen in small communities along the eastern seaboard have faced increased regulations and lower prices. In particular, younger fishermen have found it difficult to make a living.
Many of the younger generation of Menemsha fishermen concentrate on striped bass. Unlike the groundfishery, which often involves large draggers, the striped bass fishery is hook and line only and lends itself to the sort of skilled fishermen who set out in smaller boats in search of bass.